Friday, December 27, 2013

"I Touch It" says the Italian

The travel bug. Something that seems more like a disease in the sense that you are born with it and it never really goes away versus something temporary that you catch. I have been infected with this disease, if you will, sine I can remember. Moving every few years, visiting family that were spread across the United States and continuing traveling though my studies and now through my work has allowed me to visit and live in some of the most interesting, at the very least, places in the world. At this stage of the game I want to believe that when I find myself back in the states in four months or so that I will be content with where I am geographically and not have the innermost feeling of needing to get away. With that being said there are things that only seeing the world can add to someone’s life and finding those cultural difference remind me why I am always trying to immerse myself in a new culture.
While I technically live abroad, my day-to-day life is such a routine at this point that Senegal has almost lost its shiny new toy effect. I forget that the things that seem so normal to me were once seen as new and exciting. It becomes more apparent once I leave the comfort of my village and venture to the more touristy sites of Senegal where I get to watch all these firsts in the eyes of other people that treat Senegal as a tourist destination; it is the Mexico of France.
The first night at Blue Africa, a hotel on the beach in Mbour where Rachel and I found ourselves for Christmas, we met an Italian man who was touring West Africa on his motorbike. Granted he had seen much more of West Africa than I have he was new to Senegal and seemed to be checking his first impressions for accurateness with Rachel and myself. It was not only funny to hear his impressions but it was also exciting to see some of his mannerisms that he had brought from Italy. A prime example of this, which we ended up Googling later to figure out the details of what we witnessed, was the act of him grabbing himself, you know, down there, and saying “I touch it” after I asked him if he had been in an accident yet. Rachel and I both just laughed it off and continued on with conversation because we both knew it was a cultural ism that we were clearly unaware of and didn’t feel the need to go into detail incase we were getting into something that we would eventually regret. Apparently the act of a man grabbing his crotch or a woman grabbing her left boob in Italy was the equivalent to our knock on wood; t is interesting how the simple act of knocking on wood differs so greatly amongst cultures. I also noticed how seemingly passionate he was with everything. The food was great as he took in every bite, the view breathtaking and the homeless dog that was never too far away was even greeted with a “ciao bella” or hello beautiful in English; usually the homeless animals get an “acha” or “shoo,” as we would say in America, since they are at the bottom of the bottom of the totem poll in Senegal.
In a not so smooth segue; dogs, cats and pigs are treated as though they don’t exist in Senegal. Cows, goats and sheep are slightly higher up considering that they at least provide food once someone determines that their life should come to an end, with the human life, as similarly in most cultures, usually being the reigning class. Not too long ago a few volunteers and myself were riding in a car coming back from Kolda when we came across a troop of monkeys. While we were all taken back by how magnificent they looked in their natural environment and the natural way they acted towards each other we could not help but notice the behavior of our driver. He repeatedly brought his fingertips up to his forehead and out in the space between him and the windshield with an open palm almost like he was telling them to stop. We had our assumptions of what exactly he was doing but once asked he told us that he was showing them respect because we were once exactly like them and even today we are not much different. This sign of respect was interesting since it was coming from a cultural that normally does not show much, if any, respect for animals.

How do you make Christmas on the beach better? Add
some wine and cheese!
While rituals, little behaviors and the simple beauty that a country can offer us are all searchable on your favorite search engines it will never be the same as seeing it first hand.  We tend to speed through life and forget to take in all the little things that we take advantage of once we get used to something. Whether you are one of 14 squeezed in a car, waking up to the mosque speakers announcing prayer at 5:30am or tasting that once exciting dish for the fifth time that week for dinner, life is exciting, life is a gift and it is the little things that reminds me why I like to travel. If you are ever missing home or family just blink a couple of times because it will be over before you know it.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems

Peace Corps is hard. Development work is harder. There are things that we do to ourselves to make our lives more complicated, drinking too much and having a hangover when it is already 100°F, and there are things that the world does to us and make us wonder why, such as people stabbing your already overworked donkey, but I will elaborate more on that later. With all these things being said when work is going well or, more or less, your way, it is something to celebrate and appreciate. When you find yourself in this rare ideal you tend to see, not just look at, the sunrises on your morning run, savor the lunch that you eat probably five times a week or play with the kids in your compound a little more; everyone benefits!
While work has been about as busy as ever and though it still does not compare to a busy schedule in my previous life it feels good to be on the move again. My trash project has all of a sudden stumbled upon financing from a few sources which seems typical as far as timing because I have been working my entire service to get funding without writing another grant and I finally find it once my service is in the last stretch; 1) the city contributed 100,000CFA (about $200), 2) we were fortunate enough to add one of the local pharmacies to our list of clients which also just so happens to be owned by the richest person in Velingara and insists to pay more than 3x the service fee, 3) Sodefitex, an international cotton company with a local bureau, promised funding if we write an official request for donations and 4) we may have found financing from the US Embassy to install public dumpsters throughout Velingara.
With the good things come the bad and like a famous rapper once said, “mo money, mo problems.” We are now faced with the ever so daunting question of what to do with our new found wealth. Buying a new donkey is top of the list at the moment ever since someone decided to slice into her back leg with who knows what when she was eating the other day forcing her to visit the vet to get the wound cleaned out which I think she is less than thrilled about. We already considered her over-worked but since we were always financially unable to buy another donkey we just sort of
Donkey getting the best medical care Velingara has to offer!
hoped for the best I guess. Donkeys apparently run for about 50,000CFA (about $100), which cuts a large piece of the already small pie given to us by the community but we will consider it as an investment in the business. The rest of the money will be put in the bank so that we have money to fall back on as it’s needed, like during dry season and donkey food is so expensive that she is eating most of our profits. Amadou has expressed a few things that we can buy but I am keeping him grounded, I think.
The meeting with Sodefitex to ask for donations, materials, or pretty much anything they could contribute, went great. We initially spoke with someone but he ended up being in charge of manufacturing but kindly showed us who the correct person was to speak with and, while he was a little less inviting, he said that he would accept our request if we had a proper written request. We have to state the brief origin of the project, our current dilemmas and what we plan on doing/how we will benefit from the donation, in whichever form we are requesting. This was expected, and he wanting a formal request did not surprise me, but I was surprised when he started explaining that he probably wouldn’t be able to give funds or materials 100% and that in fact projects are more successful and people are more invested when they are required to also contribute to the end goal. With that being said they usually would, as an example for our request, give us a well-built cart containing the Sodefitex logo and we would have to pay for a percentage of it, which could be paid in full or monthly installments. What? I was speechless. This is great! This is exactly what I wanted when I was declining to write another grant for the project in the first place, the community and the project needed to be more invested and here I was listening to a Senegalese man preach about the importance of the project leaders having a sense of ownership in the “donated” materials and this is why Africa is how it is today because they receive too much free stuff and aren’t involved in the development process. I am not paraphrasing or summing up the point of what he was getting at, this is what he said and I wanted to jump out of my chair, throw my arms around him while I cried. He gets it. People can get it. This is what I am doing here. Not to write grants, though I did do that a couple times, or to solely teach people about Americans but to show people that there are resources here which are available and it is up to them to take advantage of them and with a little hard work, and if we are being honest, education, they are more than capable of doing this.
Concerning my project in Tambacounda producing poultry feed I think we were approved, well I received a text from the Peace Corps grants manager asking if I had received the funds yet and while I informed him that I was unaware that we were approved I was encouraged to look into my account. This is great timing since not only has it been a while since we submitted our application but my counterpart Cissé had called me the other day to tell me that the project had already started because “if he were to wait funding he might be waiting forever and he doesn’t have time for that.” This does not mean that he has funding to do the project on his own it merely means that he is financially capable, and determined enough, to start the preliminary crucial steps in the project so once funding is received we can more easily hit the ground running! He has great determination and has not let me down thus far and I am excited for the week when we get to set up shop and start a truly wonderful business; it will also be kind of nice that I will get to live at the regional house with Wi-Fi and access to a kitchen since it is approximately two hours from my actual site and the thought of commuting sounds horrible.
In summary, life is good. I have more work than most volunteers, which is something to be excited about and I love, for the most part, the people that I get to work with. My service is going to be coming to an end before I know it so now is the time that I get to, pardon my language, start kickin’ ass and takin’ names!


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